Luis Moreno in center, playing the guitar and leading El Coro
This past week in Santa Barbara, I searched for all things virtuos. I'm happy to report there is hope out there for those of you caught up in gift giving, baking, and that mentado Tchaikovsky suite.
Last Wednesday, I took a trolley holiday lights tour of Santa Barbara. Feel free to chortle and hurt your stomach with big belly carcajadas. Yes, I was a tourist in my own town, taking the tourist trolley to look at the neighboring houses with the best Christmas lights display. It was actually fun.
The tour starts off with chocolate chip cookies, hot cocoa and cider. As we rolled down State Street, the driver made sure everyone yelled out, Merry Christmas, after he dinged the bell three times. When we turned into areas I never knew existed, kids came out to say hello and adults saluted with whatever they have in their glass, sometimes dressed up as Santa.
Having the best light display is a way to give something to the community and garner much oohs and aahs from passerbys.
After the Trolley Tour, I felt I had received an angel's windpower and could partake in a week of blaring carols and holiday overload. However, last Friday's, Posadas represented a true spirt of Christmas and communal feel.
Una Noche de Las Posadas is my favorite Christmas activity in Santa Barbara. You don't have to speak Spanish to sing the traditional songs from Mexico. You don't have to miss your favorite midnight mass or wait until the 24th or 25th of December to participate in a spiritual celebration. Plus, in Santa Barbara, there are very few times when you can stop traffic, follow an angel and sing down the street. We usually have a miniature donkey, named Wilson; however, the rain left us with la pata lavada and no donkey. We also shortened our route a bit, but it was grand to see all the people that celebrated with us despite a little rain blessing. This event rates much higher than Santa Barbara's boat or Christmas parades. Thanks to our leader, Luis Moreno, Las Posadas was fun at rehearsals and even more joyous during our rainy trek.
Luis Moreno plays the guitar and keeps everyone in tune. He's been the musical director for the past 20 years. He leads El Coro through four rehearsals of the songs and is very patient with people who don't sing or have never studied music. In fact, he encourages anyone who is interested to join in. "My perspective is the community and we want everyone to participate," he said. "The love put into it is more important." Luis talked about the virtue of giving
back to the community and why he continues to lead El Coro:
"The Love--that's what the story's all about, something that's not commercial. There are so many elements, spiritual and cultural. The traditions go way back before English was spoken here. This is my way of giving back to the community. These are the things I value. I'm continuing a tradition. It makes me feel good."
Along with the virtuous feeling of giving to strangers, texting is the new easy way to give to your favorite charity. My friend Lora texted money to NPR's This American Life. As a PEN USA
Emerging Voices Fellow, I must mention that you can text PEN to 202222 and donate $10 to our thiriving literary community.
If your New Year's resolution is to read more poetry and to keep books in print by supporting authors, I will be joining Luis J. Rodriguez, A. Razor, Hugo Machuca, Rolando Ortiz, and Hannah Wehr at Avenue 50 Studio, 131 N. Avenue 50, Highland Park, on January 23 at 3pm.
Merry Christmas. Manuel Ramos will write a special New Year's Eve column next week. You'll hear from me again the first Friday of 2011. I'll leave you with a childhood memory and a poem I wrote a few days ago.
©2010 Melinda Palacio
When they are done
Christmas crunches in your mouth.
Think of a sweet tortilla, deep
fried with cinnamon and sugar
left over from last week’s ojarascas,
those lard cookies linger
in the belly during a week
of festive cooking, chocolates, and ham.
After the tamales, before midnight of the New Year,
it’s time to stretch buñuelos on your knee.
Everyone’s gone to champagne parties.
My grandmother hands me the masa disks.
I paper every surface of the house, run
back to the kitchen with urgency.
She rolls them out at a steady, swift pace.
Buñuelos need to dry before they are fried.
An eerie sight for the night.
Melted Dali clocks on chairs,
on the dining room table,
on dish towels over the sofa,
some buñuelos stretched too thin
like old torn sheets. December ends
A New Year begins with last year’s green
Tupperware filled with crisp buñuelos.